Champions League winners and losers

Date published: Friday 14th April 2017 8:30 - Daniel Storey

Winners

Kylian Mbappe and Monaco
The context of the match was less than pleasant and the timing hardly appropriate (more on that later), but if you thought that the off-field concerns made Dortmund vs Monaco an occasion for wise old heads, think again.

Mbappe described the match in the Westfalenstadion and the day in its surroundings as an “extreme experience”, but this is a kid who takes everything in his long, lightning quick strides. Anyone wanting to feel old and grey when admiring his prodigious talent should be aware that he wasn’t even alive when France won the 1998 World Cup, and Spice Girls’ ‘Goodbye’ was No. 1 on his birthdate. Look for the rainbow in every storm. Fly like an angel, heaven sent to me. I digress.

At the start of this season, Mbappe had played 288 minutes of football in Ligue Un, and his European experience stretched to 34 minutes as a substitute in a 4-1 defeat at White Hart Lane. Even this season he played twice for Monaco’s second team in the French third tier. Now he has scored twice in the Champions League quarter-finals and been the most dangerous attacker on the pitch against Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund.

There is no point trying to quell the hype, because it is a futile task. Mbappe is set for stardom, and the only relevant questions are how long he stays at Monaco, which elite club he joins and just how far he can go. This season, he might just take his team to the most surprising Champions League triumph since the competition’s re-brand. You could get 250/1 on them in August.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo
Written him off a little, hadn’t we? We saw Ronaldo had only scored twice in the Champions League this season and understandably assumed that, at 32, the talent was on the wane.

That may indeed be a fair suspicion, but anyone who doubts the mental strength and drive of the Portuguese is soon made to look very foolish. His two goals against Bayern Munich not only turned the tie, but took Ronaldo to 100 Champions League goals. He is now 29 ahead of Raul in third, for so long seen as the king of this competition; Raul has still played more games.

Ronaldo has also now scored 38 times for club and country this season, for those keeping count. An under-par season that 99.9% of professional players would kill for.

 

Juventus’ home record
Juventus’ last 47 home matches in all competitions, stretching back to September 2015:

Won – 42
Drawn – 5
Lost – 0
For – 103
Against – 19

 

Massimo Allegri
Like Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, there is an accusation that Allegri is succeeding in spite of his abilities as a coach, not because of them. Winning the Scudetto with Juventus is an exercise in shelling peas, and even taking Juventus to the Champions League final in his first season in charge saw Antonio Conte take at least part of that credit. Last season’s last-16 exit to Bayern Munich was seen as far more instructive.

Yet Allegri demands a little more respect. He has won consecutive domestic doubles with Juventus, has overseen the astonishing home record detailed above, has dealt with the loss of Arturo Vidal, Alvaro Morata and Paul Pogba (albeit with heavy reinvestment permitted) and made Juventus better, not worse.

For those of us with Premier League loyalty, it is impossible not to take the 3-0 victory over Barcelona in the context of Allegri’s potential appointment by Arsenal. He is the favourite to take over from Arsene Wenger, whenever that may be. Could anyone at Arsenal have failed to be impressed by the manner in which Barcelona were swept aside by a team with a revenue approximately £110m below Arsenal’s at the last count?

Yet this was also vindication for Allegri at Juventus. Avoid the PSG-style capitulation at the Camp Nou and Juventus will be thrust into a semi-final line-up that is likely to include Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Monaco. Why shouldn’t this year be their year?

 

Paulo Dybala
I won’t try and tell you anything new about Dybala that you cannot get from this wonderful piece by Rory Smith, but even the most optimistic of Juventus supporter couldn’t have predicted that this Argentinean striker would dominate so brilliantly against Barcelona. While Gonzalo Higuain was on the periphery, a 23-year-old truly announced himself on the Champions League stage. As one Mailboxer intriguingly asked, was this the performance that will prompt the transfer? Maybe not.

 

Borussia Dortmund fans
Amidst the worrying scenes and match postponement, a story of human kindness. Dortmund supporters’ initiative to put up Monaco fans for the night – supported by the club – led to some good news headlines on Wednesday to match those of a more serious and worrying nature. It’s nice when nice people are nice.

 

Yohan Benalouane
The worry was that Benalouane would be found out in unfamiliar surroundings, but the Tunisian defender has coped admirably when standing in for captain Wes Morgan. He will be needed again after Robert Huth’s suspension, but there is now far less doubt about his ability. Sometimes, all it takes is a chance.

 

Atletico Madrid’s defence
I mentioned the ridiculous statistics in the post-match piece, but they are worth repeating. Here are the results of Atletico Madrid’s last nine home matches in the Champions League knockout stages:

Barcelona – 1-0
Chelsea – 0-0
Bayer Leverkusen – 1-0
Real Madrid – 0-0
PSV – 0-0
Barcelona – 2-0
Bayern Munich – 1-0
Bayer Leverkusen – 0-0
Leicester City – 1-0

You don’t need to have the best attack in the world when your defence is watertight. There is no secret to Diego Simeone’s strategy for Atletico success, but that doesn’t make it any easier to counter.

 

Giorgio Chiellini
The type of header that says ‘I want to win the bloody Champions League, and woe betide you if you try and stop me.’

 

Nuri Sahin
The most wonderful interview, and further reiteration that we must be more understanding of footballers. They’re humans after all.

 

Losers

Bayern Munich
It was deemed Pep Guardiola’s greatest failure, at least until he had to manage a season with Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov as left-back options. Jupp Heynckes had won the treble in his last season in Munich, but the first European Cup since 2001 – and second since 1976 – was the crowning achievement.

Guardiola was tasked as the man to instigate a period of European dominance. So it didn’t prove. Guardiola led Bayern to three consecutive semi-finals, eliminated at that stage by La Liga’s three biggest clubs. Winning the Bundesliga title is hardly considered an achievement in Munich, merely a fulfilled expectation. Anyone believing elite club management is easy need only look to the pressure now placed upon Carlo Ancelotti.

With Bayern 1-0 up and Arturo Vidal given the chance to double their lead before half-time from the penalty spot, Bayern were finally in a position of strength to break their recent Spanish hoodoo. The subsequent miss and Cristiano Ronaldo’s double puts another manager closer to the precipice signposted ‘failure’. Suddenly that ten-point Bundesliga lead feels meaningless.

 

UEFA
If the accusation is that UEFA could not organise a p*ss-up in a brewery without either flooding the place, inadvertently poisoning the attendees or creaming off the brewery’s profits, they really don’t help themselves in shifting that image. The suspicion has always been that nobody is quite as out of touch with the game as governing bodies.

And so to Tuesday and Wednesday evening, and Borussia Dortmund’s rearranged match with Monaco. Speaking after their 3-2 defeat, Thomas Tuchel was intent on revealing just how badly the process had been managed:

“We were informed by text message that Uefa was making this decision. We would have liked more time to take stock. This gives you the feeling of impotence, that we have to keep functioning and nothing else matters.

“A decision made in Switzerland that concerns us directly. We will not forget it. It is a very bad feeling. A few minutes after this attack the only question that was asked was: ‘Are you ready to play?’ As if we had thrown a beer on our coach. At that time we did not know the reasons for this attack.

“There is a feeling of helplessness. The date was imposed on us. We weren’t asked about playing the game. Uefa is eager to continue playing and, of course, we have to keep it going but we still want to be competitive. Every player has the right to deal with it in his way. The team did not feel in the mood, in which you must be for such a game. We were attacked as men and we tried to solve the problem on the ground. The players had the choice not to play but no one chose this option.”

You can understand UEFA’s keenness to keep to its own schedule. Fitting their games around the calendars of domestic league is difficult. Yet to impose a rearranged match 24 hours after such a harrowing incident for a team, club and city only destroys the very notion of competition. If UEFA want to make it all about football, Dortmund were at a clear competitive disadvantage.

Nobody expected UEFA to bend over backwards and help Dortmund; we have endured their incompetence for too long to expect that. Yet some compassion amongst the administration would not have gone amiss. Dortmund are left wondering whether European football’s governing body really cares about anything beyond the end of their own nose. Logistics over love; it’s a helluva company tagline.

 

Barcelona, needing another miracle
The cat has run out of lives, or at least that is the assumption. Barcelona may have produced one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the game last month, but that rare strand of lightning does not strike twice.

In truth, nor do Barcelona deserve it to. They have now capitulated in two away legs, proof that while the sprinkling of magic dust remains, the aura of invincibility has long gone. Juventus are a far more resilient team than PSG, and Allegri a more resilient coach than Unai Emery. This is surely the end of the road.

If that is the case, it marks the end of an era as well as Luis Enrique’s time in charge. For the first time since 2005, Barcelona will endure consecutive seasons without a Champions League semi-final.

 

A minority of Leicester fans
What the f**k has happened? What empowerment did Brexit give to a minority of our society who, whipped up into a frenzy by right-wing newspapers, feel it their right to impose their idiocy on others? Where and when does this stop? Do those guilty media outlets not have a duty of care?

What started at Euro 2016, where a percentage of England supporters went to France intent on causing trouble, carried on in Dortmund last month. England supporters chanted ‘Ten German bombers’ and taunted a black man on the underground who they claimed looked like Tony Yeboah. In Madrid on Tuesday, Leicester supporters gathered to sing that same chant and added ‘You Spanish bastards, Gibraltar is ours’ for good measure, because it’s lovely to be awful and topical. According to this excellent piece from Jonathan Liew, they chanted ‘Ahmed Musa’ at a black waiter.

Every country has its idiots, but nowhere are they more hardened and emboldened than on a football away trip. Plenty who would like to follow England (and now Leicester) have been put off doing so by the abhorrent behaviour of those who think they have a right to cause damage and offence because ‘This Is England’. What must Europe think of us?

There will be critics who believe too much focus is being placed on this minority, wilfully ignoring those who went to Madrid, sampled the culture and enjoyed the match. Unfortunately, that is an inevitable consequence; these idiots are the news story. The sooner Leicester and the Football Association bans them from travelling abroad to attend matches, the better.

 

Jamie Vardy
UEFA’s official match statistics claimed that Vardy had not completed a single pass during his 78 minutes, while Opta credited him with one, presumably from kick-off. Arguing the toss between which of those is technically correct spectacularly misses the point.

Vardy averaged less than one touch of the ball for every seven minutes on the pitch. That Islam Slimani managed eight in his 12 minutes as Vardy’s replacement indicates that the ‘hit it long down the channels’ strategy that Leicester hoped would allow their striker to trouble Atletico emphatically failed.

 

Dortmund’s defence
They should not have been playing the fixture at all but, even so, Tuchel will be intensely disappointed in his side’s defending. They knew what to expect from Monaco, and yet proved themselves incapable of thwarting it.

In their two biggest games of the season to date (Bayern Munich (a) and Monaco (h)), played over the space of a week, Dortmund have conceded seven times. It is indicative of a wider issue. Dortmund should be the Bundesliga’s second best team according to budget. They have kept seven clean sheets in their last 24 matches and sit eight points behind RB Leipzig.

Daniel Storey

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